Can Your WAN Cope?


As remote working becomes the norm for many businesses, what does this mean for network access and flexibility? Already video conferencing services are straining to deliver their services to a mass user base. Add in security issues, in this scenario, could your WAN cope?

The massive expansion of video conferencing thanks to millions of businesses adopting remote mass working in reaction to the COVID-19 crisis, has place unparalleled stress on the WANs that support these services. According to new research from Aryaka, 45% of UK businesses noted that slow application performance led to poor user experiences for remote and mobile users and is a significant issue faced by IT and support teams. In addition, accessing and integrating cloud and SaaS applications is one of the most pressing issues for UK IT departments, cited by 39%.

With network complexity and its resulting impact on performance now the top blocker to WAN implementation, the cost has become less of an issue for users who now cite significant investment in automation, security, cloud connectivity, and are looking ahead to 5G.
With a third of UK organizations regularly using over 500 applications, finding a solution to application performance issues has become urgent for UK businesses. While an agile and secure WAN can address these issues, WAN management is still problematic.

The lack of adequate WAN security and the slow performance of on-premise applications are the top issues faced by 33% of UK organizations today, according to the Aryaka report. Also, 31% cite the complexity in managing and maintaining the WAN, along with a lack of visibility into the WAN as additional challenges.

“We are living in a complex multi-cloud and multi-SaaS application world,” said Shashi Kiran, CMO of Aryaka. “As global enterprises continue to innovate by embracing new technologies and migrating to the cloud, they also face new challenges, and the network is increasingly a strategic asset. Whether it’s an increasing number of global sites through expansion, poor performing cloud-based applications, increasing costs or the time it takes to manage multiple vendors, many organizations are at an inflexion point: transform the WAN now or risk falling behind and losing to competitors,” Kiran concluded.

Networks have to adapt to the new world order of business. CTOs are overhauling their networks in a bid to deliver the access needed to run an efficient business via remote teams and simultaneously doing so, with secure WAN access adopting a zero-trust posture.

New networks

For businesses, evolving their networks to cope with increased demand is critical as their enterprises come out of lockdown. Research from VMware, in association with Forrester and IDC, indicates almost two thirds (59%) of European IT leaders believe it is very challenging to gain end-to-end visibility of their network.

Only a third (38%) of networking teams are currently involved in the development of security strategies. Yet, 60% of these are included in the execution of security, perhaps signalling that networking teams are not seen as having an equal role with the other IT or security teams when it comes to cybersecurity.

This is in stark contrast to the fact that network transformation is seen as being essential to delivering the levels of resilience and security required by modern businesses, with 43% of European organizations (IDC) saying this is a crucial priority for them between 2019 to 2021.

“Businesses who are looking to adapt to fast-changing market conditions rely on the ability to efficiently connect, run and secure modern applications consistently, from the data center, across any cloud and all the way to the device,” said Jeremy Van Doorn, senior director of Systems Engineering, Software-Defined Data Center EMEA, VMware. “And it is the virtual cloud network that is delivering this. The network needs to be recognized as the DNA of any modern security, cloud and app strategy, and it should be seen as a strategic weapon and not merely the plumbing.”

Taking a comprehensive and above all, an integrated approach is advocated in by Aryaka in their report: “The adoption of SD-WAN is not without its hurdles. This year’s report revealed fears of increased complexity when deploying SD-WAN – with 36% citing this as the top barrier to adoption. 35% of UK IT managers also stated the technology is ‘too new.’ The third barrier to SD-WAN adoption in the UK is the lack of the right skillsets for 33% of respondents.”

Aryaka concluded: “Despite these misgivings, SD-WAN is gaining ground: In the UK, 39% are gathering information about the technology, and 30% are already evaluating vendors. UK organizations are also demanding more from their SD-WAN solutions – 42% in the UK demand cloud/SaaS connectivity, 41% want application acceleration and WAN optimization. Should they deploy one, UK respondents stated they would choose a telco-or MSP-provided option, 32%, over an SD-WAN vendor, 24%.”

Richard Bennett, head of Industry Strategy and Solutions, EMEA at VMware told Silicon UK: “When thinking about the operations of a business, the concept of WANs and VPNs is fundamentally flawed because, for the last six or seven years, business continuity and the resilience of operations have been based on two aspects: being able to use information anywhere and on any device.

“The ability to access this information does not depend on a company’s WAN or VPN system, but on its digital strategy. Indeed, the mass shift towards remote working has also uncovered flaws amongst those organizations or sectors that continued to rely on WANs and VPNs rather than update their technology strategies to facilitate connectivity.”

Bennett concluded: “The most important thing to remember is that WANs and VPNs do not support remote working. Instead, they facilitate the network foundations that get the applications into the hands of the user to provide business productivity. Organizations’ need to make sure they’re focusing on how applications can be consumed at scale, particularly given there is now an increased focus on maintaining productivity in the face of the pandemic.”

Implementing change

With the lockdown horizon fast approaching, CTOs and their colleagues will need networks capacity to cope and, networks that are versatile enough to be flexible as business needs change. David Ginsburg, VP Products and Solution Marketing at Aryaka, told Silicon UK:

“In some enterprises, traffic has shifted from the branch to the remote worker. CTOs need visibility into these shifts to maintain application performance regionally or globally. This may include adding VPN/concentrator capacity or adjusting bandwidth across some access links or across the WAN, simpler with a centrally-orchestrated service. One challenge has been where IT has not had access to on-premises assets, requiring all work be done remotely. Once again, the potential value of a managed service.”

David Ginsburg
David Ginsburg, VP Products and Solution Marketing at Aryaka.

With Emma Roscow, intelligent cloud infrastructure lead for Accenture UK & Ireland commenting: “Software-defined networking (SDN) is an architectural approach that enables the network to be intelligently and centrally controlled—or “programmed”—using software applications. Applying this principle to WAN allows companies to expand this control outside of their organization’s network.

“This approach is crucial given entire organizations are now working remotely. Not only is it designed to support cloud-based applications, but it can also cope better with the increased demand across the network by intelligently directing traffic depending on the business’ needs at any given time. Another key aspect is that it helps operators manage the entire network consistently and holistically, regardless of the underlying network technology. For CTOs working with an ageing architecture, this may be a much-needed tool.”

Network access, capacity and security are all vital components of a technology strategy currently taking shape. Delivering the network capacity and application access on a business process level has never been more critical. Businesses should, though, not forget that their networks also serve their customers.

Silicon in Focus

Eric Hanselman, Chief Analyst, 451 Research.

Eric Hanselman
Eric Hanselman, Chief Analyst, 451 Research.

Eric Hanselman coordinates industry analysis across the broad portfolio of 451 research disciplines. He has an extensive, hands-on understanding of a range of subject areas. These areas include information security, networks, and semiconductors and their intersection in areas such as SDN/NFV, 5G, and the Internet of Things.

With mass remote working now the norm, how will WANs and VPNs have to change to support these workers if businesses adopt remote working on the current scale as the new normal?

“The expectation for WAN’s and VPN’s has historically been that the former was the mainstay and the latter was the unusual activity. With more mobile workforce shifts, there has been more use of VPN’s, but few businesses expected the rapid change that the pandemic forced.

“Businesses need to consider networking plans that will allow them to blend the functionality and scale that have historically been separate domains for WAN and VPN. There have to be secure, scalable access capabilities for individual workers. That’s been the territory of gateway VPN’s, but that’s an architecture that’s shown its limitations.

“Cloud-based services offer scaling benefits and can be more performant for some applications. Software-Defined Perimeter (SDP) and Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) approaches can give businesses control and flexibility as workers and the applications they’re using become more dispersed.”

What are the key challenges facing CTOs as they attempt to support their workforces with remote access connectivity?

“The traditional gateway VPN is suitable for much less of an organization’s needs in the new world in which we operate. While workers are remote, resources to which they’re connecting are more dispersed, as well. CTO’s have to be ready to scale up and down quickly.

“We’ve crashed into a world where the branch office suddenly has a population of one and WAN, and VPN use cases are merging. Cloud-based access services have the benefit of lower operational toil and scaling and cost flexibility that can address many of these issues. CTO’s need to ensure that they can connect and secure their employees and business assets wherever they’re located.”

“A recent 451 Research study found that, while remote and work from home policies had surged, 38% of respondents felt that these policies would become permanent. That’s a sea change for which CTO’s will have shift traditional thinking and approaches.”

What are the critical security issues that must be addressed to ensure all remote connections are secure?

“As the last year has shown, fundamental security hygiene issues continue to be one of the most critical tasks. Updating and patching software for endpoints and infrastructure can nip many emerging threats in the bud. This is an essential security operations skill that businesses can’t afford to fail. The last year has shown us vulnerabilities in VPN gateways and ransomware attacks that leveraged patchable holes.

Is 5G needed to support what could be exponential growth in WANs and VPNs to cope with the ‘new normal’ of mass remote workforces?

“The reality is that waiting for 5G availability to scale access operations will put enterprises well behind the curve. Access capacity planning has to deal with the new abnormal today. As businesses plan for a return, they have to build nimble networking systems. That means they should expect to put 4G services to work now and be ready for 5G as it’s available. For implementations, that may mean direct Internet access backed by 4G or multiple 4G connections, depending on service quality.”

Is SD-WAN one clear way to mitigate the issues facing WANs today?

“The principals of SD-WAN should be embraced across networks, no matter what technologies are implemented to achieve them. Access technology agility, granular security controls and dynamic configuration capabilities should be the hallmark of any access network.

“In the environment that we find ourselves today, businesses should look at SD-WAN with an expectation that they’ll have to scale to a branch office of one employee. That means they’ll need to implement systems that can scale up and down and still support individual employee access. To the greatest extent possible, employee access experiences need to become seamless.”

Photo by Yan from Pexels.

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